Michigan frame-up, harsh sentences are dangerous attack on constitutional rights

By Vivian Sahner
January 16, 2023

In a serious blow to constitutional rights, courts handed down lengthy prison sentences for five of the 14 men entrapped and framed up by the FBI on charges of plotting to kidnap Michigan’s Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in late 2020 to press for change in state government policies. At least 12 FBI informants and three FBI agents worked together in an undercover operation to set them up.

The government’s charges centered around a trip by a dozen men, a third of them government informants or undercover FBI agents, that carried out surveillance of the landscape around Whitmer’s vacation cottage. Two of them allegedly discussed how a nearby bridge could be blown up. No one was harmed, no property was damaged, and no future attack organized.

Prosecutors said the plot was precipitated by the opposition of right-wing militia groups to restrictive mandates Whitmer imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Barry Croft, a long-haul truck driver, was sentenced to 19½ years in prison Dec. 28 by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Jonker. In August, Croft was convicted of “conspiracy,” a thought-control charge, for what he thought and said, not anything he did. He was also convicted of attempting to obtain and use a weapon of mass destruction after he practiced detonating explosives, but he never used them.

On Dec. 27 Adam Fox, an unemployed vacuum repairman with no prior criminal record, was sentenced to 16 years in prison after being convicted on the same charges as Croft.

Fellow defendants Joseph Morrison; his father-in-law, Pete Musico; and Paul Bellar were sentenced to prison Dec. 15. Morrison and Musico were convicted in October of firearm violations after allowing people, including Fox, to conduct target practice on their property. Bellar was convicted on charges of providing ammunition, along with devising tactical possibilities and codes.

All three were convicted of belonging to the Wolverine Watchmen, which the prosecution claimed was an “illegal gang” that had discussed taking action against politicians and police officers to force changes in public policy.

Whitmer urged the court to impose steep sentences.

The men’s defense attorneys argued they had been entrapped by the FBI, and their actions were protected by the First and Second amendments to the Constitution — protecting freedom of speech and the right to bear arms. But these arguments were tossed aside by the judge.

The three men were sentenced to serve minimum stints of seven to 12 years in prison. Morrison and Musico could each serve a maximum of 42 years in prison after the judge ruled sentences would be served consecutively. Bellar faces as much as 22 years behind bars.

The FBI played a central leadership role in inciting and facilitating this “plot,” from urging the men go forward, offering money and ammunition, and paying $54,000 to FBI informer “Big Dan” for leading discussions on abducting Whitmer. But defense arguments explaining this was entrapment were swept under the rug.

On Dec. 7 five more men charged with being part of the “conspiracy” were ordered to stand trial. Michael Null, William Null, Eric Molitor and Shawn Fix face charges of providing material support for terrorist acts for carrying out surveillance of the landscape around Whitmer’s cottage. Brian Higgins was charged with providing material support.

Regardless of the politics of the defendants, these prosecutions, conviction and long sentences stand as dangerous precedents for future attacks against unionists, vanguard fighters and others in class-struggle battles to come.